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All-Time Low

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Tony is twenty-three cents short.

The liquor-store clerk stares back at him, eyes vacant and bored, as his hands pull the bottle of wild-cherry-flavored brandy -- because Tony no longer has any sense of shame or any kind of discriminating palate -- closer to his side of the counter.

That's a no, then.

Need gnaws at Tony's gut. He can practically taste the alcohol on his tongue, except he can't, because he's out of money, because he's finally broke, because this is what he's come to. Six months ago he had everything in the world -- fame, money, women, heroism -- and he couldn't have imagined being anything different. And now look at him.

"Thanks anyway," Tony says.

He feels like he's going through the motions of being a human being, like he learned somewhere that people are supposed to be kind to each other, to say please and thank you, to care about others. He thinks people used to care about him.

He carefully sweeps the pile of change off the counter with his grubby hands. His fingernails are black with dirt, broken at the edges. He puts each and every penny back into the pockets of his dirty jeans and pulls his threadbare coat around himself like he still has dignity, like every cent isn't precious to him.

He used to spend money like water. Money came in hundreds, in wire transfers, in printouts of foreign account holdings. Once, this would have been nothing. A paltry amount. If a bum had asked him for a dollar, he might have handed him two hundred, and then gone home and checked to make sure the Maria Stark Foundation was funding the shelters.

He tries to hold his head high as he opens the door and leaves. The bell jingles with finality. As soon as he steps outside, the wind runs right through him and he shivers hard. It's late fall. Dead leaves crunch under his feet and dance in the wind. When he breathes in, the air hits his lungs like a thousand tiny needles. He can see his breath fog in front of him when he exhales. It's going to be one hell of a cold winter. The clerk had said this to the man in line in front of Tony, a man who was clean and smiling and had enough money for the six-pack he was buying. The man had laughed. He had agreed with the clerk. His coat had looked warm and soft.

Tony pulls his coat tighter. The fabric is rough on his hands. It doesn't matter. He doesn't deserve nice things anymore. He thinks he never deserved them anyway. It's just that now the world agrees with him.

He used to be able to plan battles, design armor, run a business. Now he doesn't even know where he's going to sleep tonight. He thinks maybe he's stopped being a futurist.

There's a guy standing a few feet away on the corner. He's wearing a business suit a little too nice for this part of town. Not as nice as what Tony used to wear, but Tony no longer has standards. Still, he's clean, well-groomed, professional. He has a job. He has an expensive haircut; his chestnut-brown hair blows over his forehead in the wind. He's no one Tony knows. A rich man, slumming it.

He looks at Tony's empty hands, at his ragged clothes, at his unkempt beard. Tony feels a tightness in his belly that can't be humiliation, because he no longer remembers how to feel that.

The man looks at his face, and Tony blinks back, stupidly. The man's gaze meets his and holds.

No one ever looks at Tony's face anymore.

"Hey," the man calls out. "You doing okay there, buddy?"

There's a certain solicitousness to him, an expression that he saw on Jan's face, on Rhodey's, on (oh God) Steve's. Before they all gave up on him, anyway. There's something bright and friendly. This guy wants to help him, like they did. But he's not as open as one of the Avengers, not as earnest. Tony supposes that not everyone can be an Avenger.

Tony makes himself nod. His head bobs up and down. He feels like he's sitting outside himself, watching his body. Watching the movie of his life. Craven drunkard loses everything. No happy ending.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Tony says, roughly. "Just-- didn't have enough for a drink, that's all."

There's a long pause. The wind howls.

The man's smile grows a little sharper. Tony wonders if he's been recognized. He doesn't look a whole lot like Tony Stark, former CEO of Stark International, but he supposes it's possible. There's an avid gleam in the man's eye. Not just avid. Lustful. That's desire.

Did people look at him like that, before? He doesn't remember. He finds the memories and pushes them away. He tries not to think about before. It's better if the world passes by in a haze. The old world is never coming back. He needs to not think about it. He needs to not feel anything. That's the only way to survive.

The man steps a little closer. He licks his lips. "How would you feel about making some money?"

Yeah, that's definitely lust.

Tony smiles his best smile, the one that used to make people want to follow him to bed. He thinks that once, he would have thought this was a bad idea. But this guy's offering and he needs the money and, well. It's a skill. There aren't a lot of other options. He knows what he's good at. He used to be good at this.

"I'd love to," he says.

The alley around the corner is disgusting, full of mud and garbage and slushy, icy puddles. When Tony drops to his knees, his pants are cold and damp. He doesn't care.

They don't negotiate. The guy doesn't ask about how much Tony's charging. Tony doesn't know how much he's charging, but as long as it covers a bottle of booze, it'll be worth it.

The guy just stands there, leans against the wall, and pulls out his dick. It's not a bad dick. It's about average. He's washed recently. He's half-hard; he pumps himself, fast and tight, and then holds his cock out with his fist around the base, like he's feeding it to Tony.

This is not the worst thing that's ever happened to Tony.

He opens his mouth and leans in, feeling the half-familiar slide of the stranger's cock on his tongue. His body remembers how to do this.

He hears the man grunt -- a ridiculously overwrought noise, like something out of a porno -- and then the man's fingers lock in Tony's too-long hair and he thrusts in hard and rough, fucking Tony's face. Tony doesn't even have to be any good at this. Tony is only a mouth to him. This guy's just paying for a nice warm place to put his cock.

Tony thinks maybe there used to be more gentleness in his life.

Tony shuts his eyes and breathes through his nose while the guy says oh yeah and fuck yeah and take it, even more dialogue from stag films. Tony goes somewhere else in his head. He knows better than to construct a fantasy, a list of things he can never have, so instead he carefully makes everything in his mind blank, a pure white background of snow. Nothing exists in his world. He's not here. This is happening to someone else. The guy's cock bumps the back of his throat and he tries not to gag.

Another half-dozen thrusts, and then the guy comes in his mouth, without warning. Tony's choking, drooling. Come spills out his mouth and drips into his beard. Tony pulls back, turns his head, spits. He doesn't look up. The guy doesn't look down.

"Thanks," the guy says. Lazy satisfaction curls through his voice; Tony's still wheezing, trying to get his breath back. "Here you go."

The guy pushes two twenties into his hand, does up his fly, and leaves without so much as a backward glance.

Tony looks down at the crumpled bills and calculates how much booze that will get him. That's all math is good for, these days. He used to know trigonometry and calculus. He used to build jet engines.

He thinks about how much booze he can buy if he does it again.

It turns out that Mr. Boston Wild Cherry Flavored Brandy tastes even worse when his mouth tastes like come, but after a sip he doesn't really care.

He's got a drink, and he's got money, and he knows how to make more.

Tony wonders why he never thought of this before. It's quick, it's easy, and he gets paid. He's not stupid. He's never been stupid. Being a drunk doesn't make him stupid. He just has to work around this, a life where alcohol is right there at the foundation of the hierarchy of needs that his world has become. Food, shelter, clothing, sleep, liquor. Mostly liquor.

He used to sell his brain rather than his body. He knows this. But you can't be a Fortune 500 CEO or a top-flight mechanical engineer if you show up to work already hammered at 8 a.m. You can't do anything at all with your brain if your body gnaws at you and claws at you and makes your mind scream until you quiet it with alcohol. And you can't be a superhero if your reaction times are slowed, your perceptions blurred. The last time he suited up he nearly killed civilians. Was that the last time? He can't remember.

There's no point in trying to pick himself up, in trying to start again. Everything he touches, he destroys. When he was sober, he felt everything too much. So now he's picked a profession where showing up drunk isn't a hindrance and feeling nothing at all is an asset.

He can't compete with most of the professional hookers, and he's not really trying to. His body's not good enough anymore that anyone wants to pay to see him naked, so he's not going to be. No one needs him to strip, to flaunt himself, to shake his ass. His ass is not on offer. Just a friendly hand or a mouth, and a bit of the old Tony Stark charm. That still works, at least.

One week becomes two becomes three. He makes enough that he spends some of his precious money on nicer clothes, work clothes -- an investment, says the part of Tony's mind that remembers words like that. The clothes are tight. The leather pants cling to his thin legs. His shirts ride up and show off muscles he no longer has, just the sweep of bony ribs. He may not look as good as he used to, but he still looks good. He looks good enough to make money. Some nights he can save up enough for the kind of hotel room that charges by the hour, if he's sure he has enough money for a drink, and he showers and washes his clothes in the sink. He never shaves. Even though he's sure he'd get more customers without the beard, he's far too recognizable. He has excellent bone structure. No one's broken his face yet.

This is what his life has settled into. Handjobs. Blowjobs. The next drink. An hour or two of sleep in a hotel room, or under a pile of cardboard. The next drink. The next drink.

The sun's setting, and the wind has picked up again. It's going to be a cold night. Just one more, Tony thinks. Just so he knows for sure that he has enough for the next drink. He got a room for a couple hours this afternoon -- showering is a business expense -- so he needs to offset the cost somehow.

There's a man at the end of the block, heading toward him, carrying a round bag over his shoulder. He's walking purposefully, quickly, gaze fixed straight ahead, not looking at Tony. No one ever looks at Tony.

By now, Tony's developed a sense of who's out looking to get some. Not everyone will ask, outright, and he's had some good luck with actual solicitation. And this guy, yeah, he looks like he might say yes if Tony made the first move. He's wearing a trench coat that whips around him in the wind and a hat pulled low, so Tony can't make out much of his face, but something about him looks... wholesome. He looks too good for this. And the thing Tony's figured out is that a lot of guys like that want him anyway. Maybe they think they're straight, but they want Tony to make the first move. They want Tony to corrupt them. He's more than willing. Besides, they pay better when they're ashamed of it.

Tony laughs to himself as the stranger walks closer, because the man's hair glints blond in the yellow glare of the sodium-vapor streetlight. Of course Tony's just thinking of Steve now, even though there's no way Steve would ever be here. This guy's as big as Steve, though; he's built like a goddamn linebacker. Tony hasn't thought about Steve in weeks. He lives a life where the Avengers don't belong, where the Avengers don't exist.

He shoves the thought back. It's a coincidence. It's his old life. He lets the memories drift away into the fog.

The stranger is still staring resolutely ahead as he nears Tony, like he's got somewhere to be. Tony is put in mind of a hero on patrol -- but of course he would be. The brim of the man's hat is still low, so Tony can't see his eyes, but Tony watches the infinitesimal movement of the man's head as he glances over at Tony, as he takes him in. The bag on his shoulder swings as he walks.

The stranger's gaze stays on him a fraction of a second too long.

Yeah, he could want this.

The stranger isn't looking him in the eye, but he slows down, like he's trying to decide whether to approach him, even as his feet keep carrying him onward. That's a definite yes. He's almost past him, and that's when Tony makes his move. Tony leans back against the wall, in full view of the light, juts one hip forward, and he puts on the smile that used to win him government contracts and women's phone numbers, so the guy will see him looking all pretty -- well, as pretty as possible -- when he turns back.

"Hey, mister," Tony drawls. "You looking for a good time?"

The stranger freezes. He just stops. He's standing perfectly still. Tony can only see the back of his head.

Tony fucked up. This guy-- he's here for a reason, all right, but it's not this one. He's too good for this after all. Shit. He's vice, isn't he? He's gotta be. Shit, shit, shit. Tony doesn't have bail money. He has no lawyer. There's no one he can call.

And then the man turns around and steps into the light. His head tilts up and Tony can finally, finally see--

It's Steve.

Tony's remembered how to feel shame after all.

He can't look at him. He wants to sink into the ground. He wants to run. He wants to die. His face is hot, his stomach curdles, and his limbs are tight with panic. He needs another drink. A dozen drinks. He needs to not remember this in the morning.

"Tony," Steve says, roughly.

No one has said Tony's name to him in a long time.

Tony makes himself look up, because he deserves this. Steve's face is sickly and sallow, a shade that would be close to chalk-white in a normal light. Steve's jaw is set firm; a muscle in his cheek twitches. His eyes are all fire, but at the same time he looks like he's on the verge of tears, like he doesn't know whether he wants to cry or take a swing at him.

The bag slides off Steve's shoulder and hits the ground. Vibranium rings out.

Steve's throat works.

"No one's seen you in weeks," Steve says. His voice is low, even, level, like he's trying with all the strength in him to stay calm. "And now, here, this-- this is where you've been? This is what you've been doing?" His voice cracks partway through. There are tears in his eyes.

Tony can feel his lips quirk. "It's a living."

Steve looks at him. Tony watches Steve's fists clench and unclench, watches him swallow hard and breathe and force back tears.

He wonders if Steve's going to punch him.

"All right," Steve says, under his breath, and then louder, firmer. "All right." He sounds like he wants to fight about it, but like he doesn't want to fight about it here. He bends down and picks up his shield, slinging the bag over his shoulder -- and then, lightning-fast, faster than a baseline human can move, his other hand encircles Tony's upper arm, like a band of steel. Peak human strength.

Tony's forgotten what it's like to live in a world that has superheroes.

"What," Tony says, and it's not really a question, and he means to sound icy and remote, he means to sound like he doesn't need anyone, but his voice comes out him small and soft and lonely.

"Come with me," Steve says, and because he's Captain Self-Righteous America it's a fucking order, and Steve is dragging him down the street without a chance to say yes or no. If Tony tried to get away, Steve could break his arm.

"Where are you taking me?" Tony asks. His heart is pounding, and if Steve says home then Tony's going to have to learn to work the corner with a few broken bones because he can't-- he's not-- he can't let them see him like this. He already can't let Steve see him, but Steve's not exactly giving him a choice. That's the thing about Steve. He never lets up. He never lets go.

Tony's going to have to remember how to live with shame. He thinks he usually solves this problem with another drink. He can't get to his flask with Steve's goddamn hand on his arm.

"Somewhere warm," Steve says. His voice is hoarse. He's pulled his hat low again. "I'm going to get us a cab."

Steve sounds like he's crying.

Tony glances over. There are tears dripping down Steve's face, sliding off his chin and landing on his coat. He doesn't think he's ever seen Steve cry before. Steve's not supposed to be the one who cries. Steve is supposed to be strong and brave and fearless and here he is, sobbing. Because of Tony. Tony wishes he could tell Steve not to bother. He doesn't need Steve's sympathy. He doesn't want Steve's pain. The dark, gnawed-out hole where Tony's heart used to be is numb. Another drink will keep it that way. He's fine.

Steve pulls him down the street and makes increasingly-loud sniffling noises that Tony has the courtesy -- courtesy, that sounds like a thing he used to have -- not to mention. It's a long block, and another long block, past the Times Square porno theaters and the darkened, graffiti-riddled storefronts with broken glass and plywood and barred windows. Tony wants to tell Steve that this is not exactly the nice kind of neighborhood where he's going to find a cab looking for a fare, but he must know that as well as Tony does. After all, he had no trouble figuring out what Tony was up to on the corner.

But Steve must have some kind of fucking Captain America magic, because a taxi saunters by them. Tony watches Steve wipe the snot and tears off his face and onto his sleeve, and then he holds out his hand and flags it down.

They pile into the backseat, Tony first, like it's a SHIELD prisoner transfer, like Steve thinks he's going to run.

Steve lets go of his arm, and Tony fumbles for his flask with shaking hands, unscrewing the cap as fast as he can, taking a sip. Steve just stares at him with betrayed, teary eyes, and says nothing.

Tony drains the flask. He hears Steve make a soft, pained sound.

When Steve leans forward to speak to the driver, he's so quiet that Tony can't hear what he tells him; Tony hopes fervently that it's not 890 Fifth Avenue, and he keeps his hand on the door handle in case he needs to jump out. He'll fall into traffic. It'll be fine.

The taxi pulls away from the curb, turns right at the corner, and thank God, they're heading south. He doesn't know where Steve's taking him, but it's not the fucking Upper East Side.

They ride in silence.

Tony is bemused when they finally pull over at an otherwise nondescript corner on the outskirts of the Village. Steve pays and then taps Tony on the shoulder. He's meant to get out. He wonders if Steve's taking him to the goddamn Sanctum Sanctorum, if he thinks Stephen Strange can cure alcoholism with magic. That sounds like something Steve would believe about reality.

Steve slips his hand around Tony's lower arm this time, fingertips brushing the inside of Tony's wrist. It's like they're holding hands. The men walking in front of them definitely are. No one looks twice at either of them. It's the Village, after all. And if Tony looks like a hustler, well, it's not like they've never seen those here.

They cross the street in silence. Steve comes to a halt outside... a Duane Reade? Huh. Well, if Steve needs a pharmacy, then Steve needs a pharmacy. Maybe he wants some Kleenex. Steve glances over at him, his face a sullen, tear-streaked mess in the light from the store windows, and then he tries to pull Tony inside.

"No," Tony says.

Tony thinks about the bright drugstore with its shining fluorescent lights, about standing there at Steve's side with the world gawking. All his flaws, revealed. Anyone who sees them will think Steve is with him, that they're together, that someone like Steve would lower himself enough to be with someone like Tony.

"Suit yourself," Steve says. "But stay."

He stresses the word, like Tony is an ill-behaved dog who needs to be leashed to a lamp post. Tony wonders if Steve thinks he's going to go suck a dick while he's off buying whatever the hell he's buying. Tony wonders if he should, just to spite him.

Tony stands there alone and shivers in his too-tight t-shirt and his too-thin coat and he doesn't smile at any of the pretty young things who walk by.

He wonders if Steve's gone in to ask to borrow their phone, to call the Avengers, to call the papers, to tell them he's found him. No, that's stupid. There are payphones out here. And Steve presumably has an identicard.

Eventually Steve comes out, bag of purchases in hand. He doesn't look happy to see Tony. His mouth is a thin, grim line. He takes Tony's hand again. He leads Tony around a corner, down a block, down another block. Tony doesn't know where they're going. He's stopped caring.

The flickering sign says HOTEL, and Steve leads him up the stairs and inside.

It's a slightly nicer place than the hotels Tony is now used to -- no visible cockroaches, and the rooms rent for nights rather than hours -- but that means it's nice enough that the desk clerk squints disapprovingly at Tony when Steve asks for a room. Tony knows exactly what he looks like. Tony knows he is exactly what he looks like.

He remembers a life where the hotel employees would smile at him, would call him Mr. Stark, would wait eagerly to fulfill his every whim. Penthouse suite at the Ritz-Carlton. The memory is fuzzy-edged, dim, starting to fade into the bleak whiteness that fills more and more of Tony's thoughts each day.

"Look, pal," the clerk says, shaking his head, glaring at Tony now, like this is a speech he's had to deliver before. "This ain't your kind of place, okay? And we don't need your kind of trouble. This is a classy establishment. You wanna turn tricks, you go somewhere else, capisce?"

Steve takes out his wallet, smiles with his mouth shut, and pushes three crisp hundred-dollar bills across the desk.

"I hear the rooms here are wonderful." Steve's voice is bland.

The man reaches back to the row of keys on the wall behind him and sets one down on the desk as he slides the money to his side. He doesn't say anything.

Tony wishes he could just disappear.

There's one double bed. It sags in the middle. The beige bedspread atop it has more than a few suspicious stains. But the room is clean and warm and it cost Steve more than Tony has made so far this week. Steve closes the door behind them and pushes the drugstore bag into Tony's hands, then sits down on one of the chairs in the corner. He tosses his hat on the little table next to him. For his part, Tony takes the edge of the bed, a safe distance away.

Steve gestures at the bag with a jerk of his head. "Go on," he says. "Open it." Like it's a fucking Christmas present.

Tony opens the bag. There's underwear. Socks. Deodorant. Soap. Shampoo. A toothbrush. Toothpaste. A pack of safety razors. Tony thinks maybe he's going to cry.

And at the bottom of the bag, there's a box of condoms and a tube of K-Y Jelly.

This is what it feels like to know that Steve is enabling him.

Tony's eyes are hot with tears. He didn't want Steve to know. He never wanted Steve to know. He never wanted any of this to touch him. He didn't want Steve to take him to a shitty hotel in Greenwich Village where the desk clerk thinks they're fucking. He didn't want Steve to buy him condoms so he can be safe when he's sucking strangers off for liquor money.

None of this should be part of Steve's life. Steve doesn't belong here.

"Checkout time is ten tomorrow morning." Steve's voice is still rough. "The room is yours for the night. You can sleep. Shower. Do whatever the hell you want. Stay warm. I'm not going to tell anyone I found you." He tosses the room key on the table.

So now he's going to be Steve's dirty little secret.

He should walk out of here right now. He should run. He knows he should run. But it's Steve. He hasn't seen Steve in so long. And where Steve is concerned, he's always been dangerously, dangerously weak. He just wants to sit here for a bit, in the same room as Steve. Even if Steve's going to yell at him. Even if Steve's going to hate him forever. Steve's the first person in weeks who's known Tony's name. Tony just wants to sit here and feel human again. He wants to feel like he's more than the nearest warm body for the most desperate stranger.

That's a feeling, wanting. Having those is a bad idea. Unfortunately, his flask is already empty.

Tony looks up. Meets Steve's eyes. "I can't accept this."

"Can't accept what, exactly?" The question is careful. Each word is sharp. It's like being pierced by knives.

"This." Tony gestures at the bag, at the entire room. "Everything."

"Well, you weren't going to let me give you actual money," Steve says, obstinately, like he'd ever even have tried, and they both know why he didn't.

"We both know you didn't give me cash," Tony says, mockingly, "because I'd drink it all away, and you can't fucking bear to see what a failure I've--"

Steve rises to his feet and steps forward, fists clenched. His face is flushed. "I would give you every dollar I have to my name and watch you spend it all on liquor if it meant you were safe! You know how I feel about you drinking, but if there's a choice I'd sure as hell rather have you safe and indoors and drunk as a skunk, rather than selling your body on the streets," he snarls, loudly enough that if anyone is next door they can hear him. Tony flinches. "Dear God, Tony, do you really think I don't--"

Tony interrupts him, because he absolutely doesn't want to know how that sentence ends. "I don't need your charity."

"It's not charity." Steve's nostrils flare. And then he takes a breath, and his face softens. "You've always been a proud man, Tony. I know that. But please. You need help. Let me help."

"I'm not proud of anything," Tony says, and he slumps; his head falls forward. There's no point in holding it up. "Not anymore."

Steve takes a step forward, like he wants to comfort Tony but hasn't the faintest idea where to begin. Tony doesn't know how to tell him not to bother.

"When I woke up in the future," Steve begins, "I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and you took me in, and you gave me everything. You gave me a place to stay. You gave me a home, Tony. Is it really so inconceivable that I'd want to do something like that for you? To help you, however you'll let me? To return the favor? To get you a room for the night?"

You were Captain America, Tony wants to say. And I'm nothing. Just let me go. Forget about me.

Tony stares up at him and feels his mouth reshape into a grimace. "I hired you," he says, flatly, and Steve staggers like Tony's just backhanded him. "I made you an Avenger, remember? I paid you to stay. Room and board just happened to be in the benefits package. I didn't give you a home. I gave you a job." The words are cutting.

Steve stares at him for long moments, wild-eyed. It feels like they're on the precipice of something terrible, like he's thrown himself out of a Quinjet and the boot jets aren't firing and he's going to hit the ground.

Then Steve says, quietly, precisely, "How much?"

Tony's heart is pounding so hard that he wonders if he's going to die. He's not sure if this is shame, anymore; everything in him is a strange blunted calmness, the way he used to feel before the beginning of a mission, the way he can almost get to at the very bottom of a bottle, around about the time he's too sloppy-sick to be able to actually enjoy it.


"How much?" Steve repeats, stepping closer. "You don't want charity. You want to earn it, Tony?" The question is mocking; Steve's mouth quivers, and he's almost sneering. Or he's almost sobbing. "I can work with that. You're selling your body? Then I'm buying. How much?"

No. No, no, no. Jesus. This isn't Steve's world. This isn't Steve's life. Tony imagines getting on his knees for Steve in the dank shadows behind a club, imagines that Steve is one of the men who fuck his throat and call him a whore and a faggot while Tony's licking and sucking and choking, and he lets them do it because he needs their money--

This isn't what should happen. They were supposed to be friends. Teammates. One day at the mansion Tony was supposed to lean in and smile, and Steve was supposed to smile back, and kiss him, and say I love you, and touch him like he was precious, like he meant something.

"Steve, no--"

"Is my money not good enough now?" There's an ugly glint in Steve's eye. "You'll suck strangers off in back alleys, but, what, you're going to tell me I'm too good for that, so I get nothing--"

"You don't want this," Tony says, desperately.

Steve's mouth curves. "I'm beginning to think you don't know anything about what I want. How much, Tony?"

Okay. Fine. All right. This is some kind of fucked-up game of chicken, is what it is. Steve's going to back down. Tony's going to make him back down.

Tony stands up. Steps closer. Waits for Steve to move away. But, of course, Steve being Steve, he stands his ground.

"To suck you off?" Tony asks. He makes his voice syrupy-sweet. "Twenty bucks. Ten for a handjob." He smiles. "That's my discount rate, you see. For my very special friends."

Undeterred, Steve meets his eyes. His gaze is bleak. "How much if I want to fuck you?"

It's like a bomb has gone off inside Tony's head. His vision whites out and he's dizzy with it. His ears are ringing. Steve doesn't-- Steve can't-- Steve can't want that. They can't do that. Tony doesn't do it. Not now. Not on the streets. No one's fucked him in years, anyway. Not since Ty. Not before Ty, either. Jesus, he can't think about Ty. He hated it when Ty fucked him.

This is how Steve wants to hurt him, then. Another piece of the punishment. He's disappointed Captain America once again. This is what Steve thinks he's earned.

"I don't do that," Tony says, flatly. "Not on the menu."

Steve's smile has an edge of cruelty. It's the anger getting in and fouling everything. "You mean you don't do it yet," he says, correcting him, and Tony wants to tell him he's wrong. "Everyone's for sale for the right price, Tony. I want to know what yours is."

You don't believe that, Tony thinks. You believe in principles and ideals and you'd never sell your body and you'd never sell your soul--

"A thousand," Tony hears himself say.

A thousand dollars is an unbelievable price, even in this degenerate decade, a price only a high-end escort could dream of commanding. It's not an amount of money Tony is worth, by any stretch of the imagination. It is also almost certainly not an amount of money that Steve has on him. This is where the game is going to end.

But Steve just smiles again. "All right," he says, like he's finalizing a plan of attack. "That sounds fair."

Tony watches, with a dawning awful feeling that might be horror, as Steve steps back to the little table in the corner next to the chair he'd been sitting in. He gets out his wallet. He counts out five bills onto the table. They're hundreds.

"Half now?" Steve is still smiling as he asks the question, but his eyes are bleak and empty. "Half now and half later, right? That's how this works?"

Tony nods numbly. He makes himself smile his pretty smile, the one for the johns. "That's how this works."

This is the only way he can ever have Steve. One night only.

Tony walks over. He picks up the money, folds it, puts it in the pocket of his tight leather pants. They have a deal.

Steve's answering gaze has turned sad. "Got any ground rules I should know about?"

Tony tries to think of what he would have said to a stranger who wanted this. That's all Steve is now to him. A guy who wants what they all want from him. Nothing more. He needs to keep it like that. He needs to just be a warm body, a tight, wet place for Steve to put his cock, a hole for Steve to use. He needs to not make this real, or it will kill both of them. They can't have what he would have wanted. It's too late.

"You don't kiss me." Tony's voice echoes and rasps, harsh in his throat, and Steve blinks wetly at him like he wants to cry again. "You don't try to touch my dick. You take me from behind. Hands and knees. You don't get to look at my face while you fuck me. You don't whisper sweet nothings in my ear."

It's the last item on the list, of all the things, that seems to hurt Steve the most. His face is agonized, stricken. He looks like he's in actual pain. "I'm not allowed to compliment you?"

Oh, he wants Steve to. He wants Steve to hold him close and tell him he cares about him, tell him how much he's always wanted to do this, tell him he's good, tell him he's still worth something. He wants it so much, and that's why he can't let himself have it. Steve's affection's not like liquor; Steve's leaving, and when he's gone Tony can't get more of it. Best to stanch the craving as much as possible.

"Nope." Tony bares his teeth. "Insults are free, though. Many people seem to find them a highlight of the experience."

Steve pales and then flushes. He looks like he wants to punch someone on Tony's behalf. Maybe the entire world.

Maybe Steve still cares about him.

"Can I negotiate for something not on the no list?" Steve's face is pinched and drawn. "I'll pay extra. Whatever it costs."

God, he sounds miserable. Everything about this is fucked up, and yet they're still doing this. It's like there's no way to stop. They're in this until the end.

Tony shrugs. "It's your money."

There's a flush in Steve's cheeks again, and his head lowers, like this of all things is something he's ashamed of asking for, when for fuck's sake he's paying Tony for sex. And then he raises his head, because Steve Rogers has clearly never been ashamed of anything he wants. Tony wonders what that's like.

"Bareback," Steve says, and Tony's mind spins in circles trying to put Steve Rogers and words you learn from the actual gay scene together in the same thought, which is ridiculous because, again, paying Tony for sex, obviously not an innocent, but still-- it's Steve.

Tony raises an eyebrow. "You watch a lot of gay porn, Steve?"

"I'll pay for it," Steve repeats, not taking the bait. "I just-- I want to get close-- I want to feel you--" He breaks off, and Tony sternly shoves down every feeling that wants to well up in him. "You know I'm clean, anyway. Healing factor."

"I know," Tony says. He glances at the table. "Another hundred."

Steve takes out his wallet, sets down another hundred-dollar bill, and then leaves the wallet on the table. His coat lands on the floor.

Tony supposes they're really doing this now.

Steve has civilian clothing on under his coat, a sweater and nice slacks. No uniform for him today. He pulls off his sweater and shirt in one fluid motion, bare to the waist in the room's dim golden lamplight, looking as always like a Greek god come to life. He's pale, unscarred, in fighting condition. He's gorgeous. That's too mild a word, really. He's perfect. He always has been. Star of Tony's furtive fantasies for years. It's never been about how he looked -- not after Tony actually met him, anyway -- and that's when Tony figured out he was actually in love. But it never hurt that he was pretty.

It kind of hurts now.

As Steve sits down and undoes the laces of his boots, Tony strips as quickly as possible. Steve's not paying for a show. It'll be easier if Steve doesn't look at him. He doesn't want to watch Steve looking at him. Not anymore.

Tony's naked, his skin stippled with goosebumps, by the time Steve's down to his boxers. It's a little too cold for this. He supposes he'll warm up soon enough.

Steve looks up. Tony watches him stare. He watches Steve take in the cuts. The burns. The bruises. His thin chest, ribs visible, still scarred from heart surgery all those years ago. The jutting of his narrow hipbones. His soft flesh where once there used to be hard muscle. His flaccid cock.

"You're," Steve says, and he bites his lip, and he doesn't finish the sentence. Tony wonders if it was going to be a compliment. He doesn't know what he wanted it to be.

Tony gestures downward and summons up something like a smirk. "It's nothing personal, by the way. I don't get it up on the job. No offense."

That's a lie. Sort of. Nothing he's been selling has required him to be able to get hard, so he doesn't try. It's easier if it doesn't happen. But bodies are funny things and brains are funnier things and sometimes he'll be on his knees, mouth wrapped around an anonymous cock, and it'll slide over his tongue just right and his mind will drop out of the safe whiteness into a clouded and confused miasma of desire and he imagines he wants this and his cock sits up and takes notice--

It's not like he ever does anything about it, anyway. It's just biology. It's just flesh. It goes away.

Steve's gaze flickers down and then back to Tony's face. "I'm not offended." His jaw twitches again.

And then Steve stands up and steps out of his boxers, and, Christ, he's huge. Tony was always vaguely aware, from those early days of helping repair and redesign uniforms, from a few discreet glances over the years as Steve came back from his morning jogs, that he was packing something substantial, but Tony's never actually seen him naked before. He's only about half-hard and he's already hung like a porn star. Jesus. Tony wonders if it's even going to fit. He hasn't done this in years.

He realizes he's still staring at Steve's cock.

"I should have asked for hazard pay," Tony blurts out.

He looks up. There's a ghost of a smile on Steve's face. "It's okay." Steve's voice is soft. "I'll go slow. I'll be gentle. I promise." He sounds so tender. He looks like he wants to cry again.

This isn't how you talk to a whore.

They're just standing here staring at each other, and Tony realizes he doesn't know where to start. He's never done this with a customer, and his brain's trying to fill in with the years of fantasies he's had about Steve. In his fantasies, he walks over to Steve, and Steve pulls him into his arms and kisses him. Tony strokes him a little, gets him hard, and falls to his knees--

Shit. Steve would probably want to touch him, too. That's what normal people do. He's already forgetting.

Okay, in his fantasies, Steve works a hand between them, gets his hand around Tony's cock, touches him and kisses him and touches him, and then Tony falls to his knees--

Wait. Steve would care about his knees. Steve wouldn't want him to just kneel up on the floor and service him. The carpet is thin and looks rough. Steve would be concerned.

Steve would take him to bed, and Tony would kiss all the way down Steve's perfect body, and then finally take him in his mouth. Steve wouldn't fuck his face. Steve wouldn't hold his head down. Steve wouldn't call him names. Steve would pet his hair, touch his face, caress him. Steve would smile down at him in wonder and gratitude.

That's not what they're doing.

"Let's get to it," Tony says. "I'd hate for you not to get what you're paying for."

Tony grabs the lube from the drugstore bag and unscrews the cap. He turns, gets one foot up on the bed. He's going to need a lot of prep. The angle's a little awkward, doing this to himself, but he's always been flexible.

And then Steve's next to him, his hand on Tony's wrist. "Let me open you up?"

Tony supposes Steve did just buy all rights to his ass. If he wants to shove his fingers in there before his dick, that's his business, and Tony shouldn't stand in the way. But there's an intimacy about it, about the thought of it, about Steve working him open with careful fingers, nice and slow. It makes Tony feel something warm and contented, low in his belly. Tony distrusts it.

"I know what I'm doing," Steve adds.

Tony realizes, distantly, that he wants Steve to do this.

"Another hundred," Tony says. It might make Steve say no. "Cash up front."

Steve nods once, curtly, and then he strides back across the room. Tony hears clothes rustling, paper rustling. Money on the table.

Tony takes this opportunity to climb onto the bed. He shuffles around on his hands and knees until he's facing away from Steve, head on the pillows, and he folds down into something like a crouch. Ass in the air. Presenting. This is all of him that Steve gets.

He sets the lube on the bedspread next to him, shuts his eyes, and waits.

There are soft footsteps, and then a warm hand splays briefly across his lower back. Tony thinks it's supposed to be reassuring. Tony wonders if maybe he should have told Steve not to touch him anywhere else. The bed creaks and dips as Steve settles behind him. Steve's huge callused hands part his buttocks, and Tony waits to feel the heavy and impersonal press of a finger, the oozing mess of cold viscous lube.

Steve's breath plumes across Tony's ass, across the sensitive skin of his inner thighs, over the back of his balls, and Tony has half a second to think that Steve sure wants a hell of a close-up view before Steve's goddamn tongue swipes hot and wet over Tony's hole.

No one's ever done this for Tony before. Every nerve lights up at once, a conduit of pleasure to his neglected cock, which is trapped between his belly and his folded thighs and is rapidly getting harder. Steve's tongue works up and down the crack of his ass in long strokes, and then his fingers pull Tony wider, and Jesus, he's really got his tongue there, he's really going for it, pressing against Tony's hole with perfect soft wet warmth just where he's most sensitive, and Tony thinks about Steve fucking him with his tongue and he thinks maybe he'll come all over the bed, just like this, if Steve does--

He thought telling Steve he couldn't touch his dick would mean that he wasn't going to get off. That he wasn't even going to get hard. That this would somehow be less intimate.

Clearly, Tony was fucking delusional.

And, Christ, Steve's licking Tony's ass and he can't really want this, can he, God, isn't it disgusting, isn't he disgusting, isn't everything about him disgusting--

"No, don't," Tony says, desperately.

All at once, the warmth goes away, and Tony's ass is just unpleasantly damp, and for a second he can't figure out why, and then he realizes that he just said no and Steve stopped instantly, and then he wants to cry. He's not good enough to be treated like this anymore.

"You don't like it?" Steve's voice is low, husky. Concerned. Caring. Maybe Steve isn't trying to punish him after all.

Tony doesn't know whether to say yes or no. "I-- I-- but it's my ass," he mumbles into his folded, bony arms. "You can't want that." He knows he just showered. But still. He's homeless. It's his ass. Steve should have limits. Someone should.

"I think we've established that you don't know a hell of a lot about what I want." Steve's voice is bitter now. This is better. Tony can handle bitterness. "Besides, you won't let me kiss you anyway, so it's hardly going to be your problem. I want to do it. I like doing it. And I thought I was paying to open you up."

Tony realizes that he never actually specified fingers.

"I remember the rules," Steve adds. "I'm not going to touch your dick," he says, and that's when Tony realizes with another rush of something that might be shame again, that Steve knows he's hard, that Steve can see everything. "But you need to feel good for this to work, you know. You need to relax."

Steve doesn't say trust me. Tony wonders if it would be insulting. Tony wonders if Steve wanted him before. In the bleak grayness of memory, through the haze, he remembers Steve smiling. He remembers that they used to make each other happy.

"I just," Steve says. "I thought you'd like it. I'm sorry."

Don't apologize to whores, Tony doesn't tell him.

"We can stop," Steve says.

"I liked it," Tony whispers, more quietly than any human should be able to hear, but he knows Steve does. He doesn't know how to say the rest of it. No one ever makes me feel like you do, and it frightens me. "I-- I want more--"

Tony doesn't want to stop. When it's Steve, he's always wanted more.

It shouldn't matter what he wants.

"Good," Steve says, fiercely, and he leans in again.

Tony's not going to beg -- because he does have some limits -- but he pillows his head on his arms and decides he's just going to let his body do whatever the hell it wants. Whatever Steve makes him feel. He's Steve's until Steve comes, anyway. Tony wonders if he should resent being owned.

Steve kisses his ass, a light press of lips on Tony's skin. It probably doesn't break the kissing rule. Tony will allow it. Steve licks over his tight hole, hot and wet and so gentle, and Tony can feel the quivering tension in him start to ease, can feel his body start to give in to the inevitable as Steve's tongue presses and meets less and less resistance. Inside, Tony thinks. I need you in me, and he never thought he'd feel this again, the empty aching need, the hunger slaked by someone else's body, the thirst quenched by lowering all his defenses and letting someone else inside him. He has no armor now.

And then Steve's tongue thrusts against Tony's hole and Tony sobs aloud and pushes his hips back and God, Steve's tongue is actually inside him, just a bit, and no one's done this for him before, not like this, not with their mouth, and no one's ever going to do this for him again--

Tony's gasping and there are tears on his face and Steve's fucking him with his tongue and Tony's rock-hard, his cock dripping pre-come on the bed and this isn't how this was supposed to go at all, no one was supposed to make the whore like it--

Steve lifts his head away and Tony hears himself whimper in dismay. He doesn't think Steve knows he was crying.

"Shh," Steve says. "Fingers now, okay?"

That's right. They have a deal.

Tony nods, dazed. He doesn't know what will come out of his mouth if he tries to speak.

Steve's shifting his weight behind him; the bed is moving. Tony can't tell what he's doing. There are a couple squishy noises, and something that might be breathing. He's breathing on something.

"Just warming the lube up first," Steve murmurs.

Tony should have told him that being kind was forbidden. He feels a tear drip down his cheek.

Even Steve's lube-slick fingers are better than Tony thought they could be. He doesn't push in right away, and his huge fingers are a little cool with the lube but not unpleasantly so. He has his other hand on Tony's hip, sliding up to his chest, gliding over his ribs. The inside of his arm presses against Tony's side, a long line of warmth. He's always warm to the touch, always a bit warmer than other people. Even with his eyes shut, Tony recognizes his touch. He wonders how he thought he could hide this.

Steve breaches him, ever so slowly, with a fingertip. Tony thinks about how strong Steve is, about how he can punch through walls, about how he can break bones. He thinks about all that strength contained, constrained, controlled. For him. Steve's finger teases the rim of his hole, an achingly slow and shallow movement, pressing around the edge, pushing lightly against the tense fluttering of Tony's muscles.

The other reason Tony doesn't let himself get fucked for money is that he is, contrary to expectations, not an easy lay. He lives too much in his head. He frets. He doesn't relax. It takes a lot of work. And he's not desperate enough for cash -- yet -- that he'd take the pain. It hurt like hell when Ty used to fuck him and he told himself it never mattered and he told himself Ty loved him so it was okay. He thinks those were probably lies. So getting fucked has never been any good with an actual human being. Given an afternoon alone and a generous amount of lube, he can work a toy inside himself, but the reward, as nice as it is, has never seemed worth the effort.

Steve's putting in a hell of a lot of effort.

"Shh," Steve whispers. "Easy."

Tony can feel Steve's breath on his skin. He can't make out half the words Steve is saying, but the tone is low and comforting as Steve strokes Tony's side with his other hand, and Tony sighs and exhales and lets himself melt, giving himself over.

"There you go," Steve murmurs, like Tony's done it exactly right, like he used to say back when they sparred together, and Tony feels the heady, dizzying glow of pride, and he remembers that he's lying here in a shitty hotel room and taking Steve's money so Steve can fuck him, and he kind of wants to die.

It was never supposed to happen like this.

Steve's finger is moving almost methodically inside him, like he wants to go in order through a search pattern and work out every bit of tension that he finds. He dips a little deeper, fucks in and out and Tony is so hot and wet and open and, Jesus, Steve is doing this to him, Steve is watching, Steve can see Tony's cock twitch and jump and drip pre-come and why the hell did Tony think it wouldn't mean anything if Steve couldn't see his face?

Two fingers are -- well, there's no denying there's something inside Tony now. Steve's hands are as big as the rest of him, but he's not forcing his way in, not pushing hard, just letting his fingers be. Tony's body has stopped trying to push him out. It feels like everything is getting wider and wider. Steve's fingers are so shallow, almost aimless in the way they slide over his walls, that Tony half-wonders if Steve even knows where his prostate is. Well, that's going to be disappointing.

And then Steve slides his fingers in and down and down and oh--


Tony arches up off the bed and he's gasping again, and it feels better than it ever has before, better than he could ever do for himself, a world of nothing but pleasure, aching urgent need focusing down in his cock and balls, a brief and beautiful moment where nothing can ever hurt him again, and oh, fuck, Steve knows exactly what he's doing.

He almost thanks Steve, but then he remembers.

There's a low answering exhalation from Steve, a soft moan, and Tony knows then that Steve is getting off on this. On watching him respond to this. On doing this to him.

Steve's fingers keep working him open, slow and sure and steady, pushing deep, easing in and out in long confident thrusts that make Tony shiver and shudder, that make his neglected cock throb with need, that turn his extorted promise for Steve not to touch him there into the worst kind of torture. Tony feels so slick and open, wet with lube and spit. He feels like he could take anything, everything, all of Steve inside him now. Steve could use his whole hand and he'd let him.

There's no bleak whiteness in his mind, only golden sunshine. Tony almost doesn't remember where he is, who he is now, why he's here, and he lets himself drift, push away from his mind, push away from everything except the feel of Steve's fingers inside him, of Steve's other hand still caressing his side, bracing him, anchoring him.

The disloyal thought drifts through his mind that this is even better than being drunk.

"I think you're ready," Steve says. His voice is coming from far away. He's the only thing in Tony's world. "What do you think?"

He thinks dimly that he should hide, should say something cruel and cutting, should try to keep some part of himself hidden from Steve, because if he gives him everything he'll have nothing left when Steve's gone.

"Mmm," Tony says, hazily.

"I mean," Steve adds, "you're the professional."

Never mind. Apparently Steve will handle the cruelty for him. Tony flinches.

There's a pause. "I'm sorry," Steve says, low and ashamed, "I'm sorry, God, I didn't mean it, I just wish you weren't-- I wish it weren't like this--"

"You meant it." Tony's face is wet again. "It's okay. I told you. Insults are free."

"Tony." Steve's voice is wretched. Miserable. This is fine. This is how this is going to happen. It's okay.

"Come on," Tony says. "I'm ready."

He pushes himself up to hands and knees, and he waits for the pain. He waits to feel Steve's huge cock splitting him open, the way it always felt with Ty. Steve lets go of his hip. Behind him there are more wet sounds, and he realizes Steve is stroking himself, getting himself ready. He desperately wants to turn around and watch. He wonders if Steve touches himself and thinks about him. He wonders if Steve fucks that girlfriend of his and thinks about him. He wonders if Steve still has a girlfriend.

The bed creaks and dips as Steve settles behind him, and Steve's hand on his hip again is gently tugging him back and up and Steve is pressing forward and--

It doesn't hurt.

Tony breathes in and out and feels the heavy, blunt pressure of Steve's cock and it's good, it's so good that he thinks he might cry again. It's all pleasure, no pain, like Steve has reshaped Tony to fit him, like perfectly-molded armor. Steve slides into him like he was made for him, like they were made for each other and neither of them knew until now.

Steve is big, all right, but he eases slowly into Tony and it all just feels good. Steve breathes out, shakily, and he moans, a low and broken sound. This is what Steve sounds like when he's fucking him. Tony's spent a good few years imagining that.

"Oh, Tony," he whispers. "Oh, my God. You're so." He cuts himself off. It was probably supposed to be a compliment.

Steve's pushing in, more and more, and Tony is helplessly, greedily arching back, trying to fit as much of him as he can, and it doesn't hurt, God, it doesn't hurt at all. Was it always supposed to feel like this?

He's taken Steve as deep as he can go, and when he tries to breathe the sound that comes out of him is wet and ragged, and Steve goes perfectly still within him.

"Am I hurting you?"

Tony squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. Tears leak from his eyes. It's never been like this before. It's never going to be like this again. He's a whore and he's letting Steve fuck him for money.

"It doesn't hurt," Tony whispers, and he feels like an idiot, because it was never supposed to hurt, it could have been like this, they could have been doing this for years. He should have belonged to Steve, like this, always, but instead he kneels in the dirt and gives himself to strangers.

"I'm glad," Steve says, low and solemn, like he's confiding a secret, and that's when he starts to move within him.

Sometimes, in Tony's fantasies, when Tony occasionally let himself entertain the thought of Steve fucking him, it was always about Steve's strength. Steve would grab his hips tight with his huge, powerful hands, would thrust into him, would fuck him, hard and rough and heavy and unceasing. Maybe he'd have a hand in Tony's hair, yanking his head back, and Tony would give himself into Steve's power. He'd submit. He'd surrender. He knew he'd never liked it before, but Steve would make him like it. Steve would never have to stop, because he was superhuman. He could pound him like a machine, until he could wring Tony's release from him.

It's not like that at all.

Steve's hands cradle his hips so gently that Tony knows he's not even going to bruise. He's holding Tony like Tony is delicate. Precious. A gift. A goddamn gift, when Steve's the one who's paid for him. Steve's cock slides almost all the way out of him, achingly slowly, then back in at exactly the same pace, like they have all the time in the world. He's so big that he can't avoid hitting Tony's prostate; his cock glides all the way over it for the entire stroke as he sinks back into Tony. And Tony, who has never come from being fucked, who has to jerk himself off until he's practically raw, moans and shivers and begins to contemplate the possibility that Steve is going to get him off without so much as touching his cock.

"Steve," Tony says, urgently, and he doesn't know what he's asking for. He wants this, he wants more, he wants everything.

"Yeah, Tony." His voice might be fond. It quivers with sadness. "That's me."

Steve fucks into him, again and again, slow and unhurried. Tony is wide-open, aching, and he tightens down like he can just keep him inside him. It's instinct, and he's not sure he's any good at it, but Steve makes an entirely new kind of sound, a surprised moan wrenched out of him that makes Tony's balls tighten with need, makes his cock drip more pre-come. Steve's next thrust is faster, and his balls slap against Tony's thighs, and there's a hot spark of pleasure deep inside him that he's never felt before, that he wants to chase.

"Again," Tony whispers, and he knows he's not supposed to be the one calling the shots but Steve does it again and it's-- God, he doesn't know what it is but he wants it. "Fuck, Steve, again."

Steve's going to make him come like this. The idea that Steve can make him do this, can make his body like something this much, fills him with a distant apprehension and a much more present driving need. He thinks maybe he shouldn't have given Steve this power. He's not sure he ever had a choice.

Steve's driving into him, again and again, his thrusts fast and deep and exactly right, and the bright pleasure rises up and he falls, like dropping out of the sky--

When he comes, it's like nothing he's ever felt before. He's aware of his cock jerking, spurting come again and again, but the sensation is in his entire body, rolling waves of ecstasy that crash over him and through him and carry him along. It seems like it goes on forever. His cock is still spurting, again and again, dripping down his thighs, soaking the bed, more than he's ever come in his goddamn life, and his balls are aching and still it doesn't let up and he can hear himself crying out and Steve is fucking him through it and when Steve hits that bright place inside him he thinks maybe he's coming again and he sobs and sobs and rides it out and everything is perfect and he can't keep it.

When he opens his eyes he finds that his arms and legs have given out entirely and he's sprawled in the wet spot. Steve is still inside him, but barely; he's not moving, but his weight is pressing Tony into the mattress, a blanket of warmth.

"What did you do to me?" Tony whispers. "What-- why-- what was--?"

In answer, Steve presses a kiss between Tony's shoulder blades. "You're welcome."

You've ruined me for anyone else, he thinks, and he wants to cry.

Steve exhales hard, through gritted teeth, and his hard cock shifts within Tony, and Tony wonders what kind of whore he is if he couldn't even get Steve off.

"You can go harder if you need to," Tony says. Maybe Steve will pound him like he deserves. Bruise him. Make it hurt. "I can take it."

He thinks Steve is shaking his head. "That's not what I--" Steve begins. He wraps his hand around Tony's arm like he wants to pull him back and ask him a question. "Could we try a different position? Not face-to-face. I won't look at you. I know." He says this like it's killing him. "I just-- I need--"

"Yeah, sure."

Tony thinks he'd agree to anything. Besides, it's Steve's money.

Steve gets a hand under Tony's chest and then sits up, drawing them both up and back until Steve is mostly upright on his knees, sitting back on his heels, and Tony is in his lap. Gravity means that Tony is sinking down more onto Steve's cock and for a half second he wonders if that was what Steve wasn't getting before, the depth of it. But then he feels Steve's chest against his back and Steve's arms around him draw him close and he realizes that--

I want to get close, Steve had said. I want to feel you.

Steve wants to know it's him.

Steve lowers a hand to Tony's waist, guides him up and down -- of course, he would be strong enough to lift him with one hand. On the edge of oversensitive, Tony whimpers and tightens down anyway, and Steve groans in his ear. His hips roll up as he thrusts into Tony, again and again.

"Do you want me to talk to you?" Tony whispers, and he knows he's breaking every rule he set, and it doesn't matter because he's already going to pay, and Steve just moans and thrusts again. "Do you want to know how you made me feel? God, Steve, no one's ever done that to me, what you -- mmm, oh, God -- did, you feel so good, want you to come inside me, oh, fuck, Steve--"

The words that are coming out of his mouth are wrong. The dialogue is scripted, memorized, written for other actors.

He turns his head as far as he can. He dares a glance at Steve's face. He feels like Orpheus running out of the underworld, but he knows he's the one who's staying for eternity. Steve's eyes are shut, so he won't see Tony's face. Of course. There are traces of tears on his cheekbones. His mouth is slack, and he's beautiful, and he's a wreck, and Tony's broken him.

"Do you know when I figured out I was in love with you?" Tony whispers, and Steve's eyes flare open.

Steve watches him in agonized silence and his hand tightens over Tony's chest and his hips snap up again.

"The first time I left the team," Tony murmurs. "When the twins and Clint showed up. I told you I was taking a leave of absence and you-- you begged me to stay, and I -- oh God, oh fuck -- knew that was it. I knew I loved you. And I left anyway. So what the hell does that make me, huh?"

He's left the team now. He's never coming back.

Steve stares at him, wide-eyed, and Steve is crying, and this isn't okay, none of this is okay, and Tony tightens down and Steve pushes up helplessly into him and maybe Steve made him come and maybe they're both using each other but it's too late now.

"I fell in love with you the day I met you," Steve says, like he's confessing to murder, and he shuts his eyes.

Tony reaches back, pulls Steve's head forward, and drags their mouths together. Steve's lips are slack against his and Tony knows exactly where Steve's mouth has been and it doesn't matter because nothing matters and Steve gasps and breathes his air and his hands on Tony's body go tight as he comes.

Finally, it almost hurts when Steve touches him.

Tony hopes there are bruises.

Tony rides him through the aftershocks, Steve's mouth fixed to his until Steve is finally done, until his grip loosens, until he lifts Tony off of him, and Jesus, Tony is a mess.

"Good?" Steve asks, like he's performing triage after a disaster. His eyes are hollow.

Tony nods curtly. "Best I've ever had."

There's no reaction; Steve sits back and glances over at the table in the corner. "How much do I owe you for the kissing?"

"What kissing?" Tony asks, and he pushes himself off the bed, wobbles on shaking, achy legs, and makes his way to the bathroom. "There wasn't any kissing. You don't kiss whores. Don't you know that?"

He shuts the door and turns on the shower. If Steve says anything, he doesn't hear it.

He stands under the spray and soaps up and washes every trace of Steve from his body, every place where Steve touched him, every sign that Steve loved him. In another world, Tony would have invited Steve in, and Steve would be embracing him, pressing him against the tile, kissing him under the water, running his hands all over Tony's body. They'd laugh and get hard and then maybe they'd fuck again.

There are no bruises.

Tony turns the water off, wraps a towel around his waist, and steps out.

Steve is gone.

Steve's clothes are gone, Steve's boots are gone, Steve's coat is gone. And his shield's gone. That means he didn't just step out. It means he's not coming back.

Tony would never have thought Steve would skip out without paying him, but, well, he supposes people can always surprise you. There's something tight and sad in the pit of his stomach. He doesn't miss him. He can't miss him. He doesn't need him.

Well, at least he got half the money.

Tony walks over to the table, and that's when he realizes Steve's wallet is still here. It's sitting atop a piece of paper torn from the hotel notepad. Steve has scrawled Anything you need. Whatever you need. You know how to find me. Please stay warm. Please stay safe.

Tony picks up the wallet. It's a good wallet, Italian leather. Tony gave it to him for Christmas last year. Steve's credit cards are all gone. He must have taken them with him. Tony thumbs through the cash. There's a lot more than his five hundred in there, all hundreds. All his, now.

There are no pictures of Steve and Bernie. The only picture in Steve's wallet is one of the first Avengers team portraits, carefully ripped in two; in this half, Captain America has his arm around Iron Man, and he's smiling at him. Tony exhales hard.

He puts his thumb on it and something in the wallet flexes. There's something else in here. He digs a finger in behind the credit card slot and pulls out... an identicard. Steve's own identicard. He left him his identicard. Captain America's face stares back at him. The face of a hero. Tony's own signature is on the card, as team chair. He flips it over. The card flashes once. It's active.

He brushes the curtains to the side, looks out the window. There's no sign of Steve. He can hear the wind howling, whistling between the buildings and down the street. It's going to be a cold winter.

Tony glances back down at the table. Steve's note continues under where the wallet had lain. There are three more words.

I love you, Steve has written.

Tony snaps the identicard in half.